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About Georgian Theatre & The Novel: 1714-1830

Source: About Georgian Theatre & The Novel: 1714-1830

On this Day in History: Sheridan’s The School for Scandal was First Performed

May 8, 2017

Brian Bedford school1200

Brian Bedford is Sir Peter and Michelle Giroux
is Lady Teazle in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s
THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL.dir. Richard Monette. Stratford Festival 1999.

On this Day in History: Sheridan’s The School for Scandal
was First Performed

Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy of manners, The School for Scandal, has delighted audiences uninterruptedly since its first production on May 8, 1777 at the Drury Lane Theatre in London because of its tightly constructed plot, its grand comedy, and its polished wit. Besides being called a comedy of manners, this type of play also is often called a drawing room comedy because so much of its action takes place in the formal rooms of fashionable London town homes, and these intimate settings have undoubtedly contributed to the play’s appeal on stage.

If you haven’t read or seen performed this classic play in awhile, here is a simple summary of its complex plot by Martin S. Day: The atmosphere of frivolous London high society binds together three plot elements: Lord Teazle is an old man married to a young and skittish Lady Teazle. Their squabbles leave her open to the advances of Joseph Surface, The Surface brothers are contrasted: Charles is open-hearted but ne’er do well; Joseph is a hypocrite who appears to be a humanitarian and a man of feeling. Their uncle, Sir Oliver in disguise, tests both brothers ad finds the apparently feckless Charles to be an honest man and the supposedly reliable Joseph a sneaking scoundrel. The two plots come together in the famous screen scene of Act Four, when Charles discovers lady Teazle at a, ahem, tryst, as they used to call it, with Joseph. The scandalmongers—Snake, Lady Sneerwell, Mrs. Candour—represent that part of society which relishes killing a reputation with each word.

Here a few notes on the stage settings for an essay I once published for Salem Press years ago:

Lady Sneerwell’s Dressing Room. Despite the fact that the stage direction indicates that the first scene of the play takes place at Lady Sneerwell’s dressing table, the room in which the scene takes place is a large room used by fashionable ladies for waiting on their most confidential guests. Thus Lady Sneerwell uses her dressing room to converse with Snake in much the same way the men of the house would use his library.

The Drawing Room. Other scenes in Lady Sneerwell’s house are set in the typical drawing room of a fashionable house. For example, In Act Two, Scene two Sheridan presents the famous school for scandal in attendance in the drawing room. Drawing rooms were used purely for public purposes. It was here that a hostess would receive guests or where guests would gather before and after dinner. Usually they were among the larger rooms of the house and certainly the room in Lady Sneerwell’s must be large enough to handle her rather large group of scandal mongerers.

The Library. The most famous scene in the play occurs in Joseph Surface’s library. Like women’s dressing rooms, libraries for men were where they met their friends for personal visits. Usually, however, it was where they met their male friends, so the scene in which Joseph meets intimately with Lady Teazle has a special significance in its being set in the library.

Now, with all this in mind, you need to know that The School for Scandal will run throughout the summer from May 15 to October 30 this year at the Stratford Festival of Canada for over 50 performances. This will be by far the premier production of Sheridan’s play in the world for this year. For information click https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/WhatsOn/ThePlays

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Paul Varner

 

 

“Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister.” On this Date in 1812 Robert Browning was Born.

May 7, 2017

monastery2

On this date in 1812 Robert Browning was born in London. He died in 1889. In commemoration, how about we read one of his most popular poems, “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister.” The poem’s first appearance in print was in Bells and Pomgranates, number 3, under the title “ Camp and Cloister” and in book form in 1842 in Dramatic Lyrics. In both early appearances “Soliloquy in the Spanish Cloister” as we have it today was paired with the “Incident of the French Camp” under the title “Camp and Cloister.” In Browning’s later distributions of his poems it remained one of the Dramatic Lyrics.

“Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” in 72 lines, 9 stanzas, consists of the under-the-breath mutterings of a cloistered monk as he observes with hatred Brother Lawrence watering his myrtle-bushes in the convent garden. Everything about Brother Lawrence irritates the speaker deeply. He can’t stand the way that the monk spends refection talking about the weather and his beloved plants, the way he eats and drinks heartily while the speaker is always careful to demonstrate his own piety by laying his knife and fork crosswise and by drinking his watered orange pulp in three sips to represent the trinity.

He imagines how Brother Lawrence must lust deeply, if only he would show it, after brown Dolores who often sits outside the convent wall combing her long, black, lustrous hair. Even as the speaker observes Brother Lawrence trimming his flowers, he takes great pleasure when one snaps, and he gleefully admits keeping the plants “close-nipped on the sly.”

So he contemplates how most effectively to destroy the soul of the hated brother. Perhaps he could trap him in one of the 29 sins listed in a passage in Galatians just as he is at the point of death and send him off to hell. Or perhaps turn down the most lurid page of all in his own pornographic novel and slip it in among the garden tools. That certainly would cause the despised brother to grovel in the hands of Belial.

He even fantasizes selling his soul to the devil (but being sure to leave a loophole in the contract). But just then the vesper bells ring calling the brothers to prayer. The poem closes as the speaker curses Brother Lawrence before they have to enter into prayers together.

So, here’s the poem:

I
GR-R-R—there go, my heart’s abhorrence!
Water your damned flower-pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
God’s blood, would not mine kill you!
What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming?
Oh, that rose has prior claims—
Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?
Hell dry you up with its flames!
II
At the meal we sit together:
Salve tibi! I must hear
Wise talk of the kind of weather,
Sort of season, time of year:
Not a plenteous cork-crop: scarcely
Dare we hope oak-galls, I doubt:
What’s the Latin name for “parsley”?
What’s the Greek name for Swine’s Snout?
III
Whew! We’ll have our platter burnished,
Laid with care on our own sheld!
With a fire-new spoon we’re furnished,
And a goblet for oneself,
Rinsed like something sacrificial
Ere ’tis fit to touch our chaps—
Marked with L. for our initial!
(He-he! There his lily snaps!)
IV
Saint, forsooth! While brown Dolores
Squats outside the Convent bank
With Sanchicha, telling stories,
Steeping tresses in the tank,
Blue-black, lustrous, thick like horsehairs,
—Can’t I see his dead eye glow,
Bright as ’twere a Barbary corsair’s?
(That is, if he’d let it show!)
V
When he finishes refection,
Knife and fork he never lays
Cross-wise to my recollection,
As do I, in Jesu’s praise.
I the Trinity illustrate,
Drinking watered orange-pulp—
In three sips the Arian frustrate;
While he drains his at one gulp.
VI
Oh, those melons? If he’s able
We’re to have a feast! so nice!
One goes to the Abbot’s table,
All of us get each a slice.
How go on your flowers? None double?
Not one fruit-sort can you spy?
Strange!—And I, too, at such trouble,
Keep them close-nipped on the sly!
VII
There’s a great text in Galatians,
Once you trip on it, entails
Twenty-nine distinct damnations,
One sure, if another fails:
If I trip him just a-dying,
Sure of heaven as sure can be,
Spin him round and send him flying
Off to hell, a Manichee?
VIII
Or my scrofulous French novel
On gray paper with blunt type!
Simply glance at it, you grovel
Hand and foot in Belial’s gripe:
If I double down its pages
At the woeful sixteenth print,
When he gathers his greengages,
Ope a sieve and slip it in’t?
IX
Or, there’s Satan!—one might venture
Pledge one’s soul to him, yet leave
Such a flaw in the indenture
As he’d miss till, past retrieve,
Blasted lay that rose-acacia
We’re so proud of! Hy, Zy, Hine.
‘St, there’s Vespers! Plena gratiâ
Ave, Virgo! Gr-r-r—you swine!

 

Forms and Devices

Browning’s appeal has often come from the dramatic presentation of inner psychological character, frequently of figures out of the mainstream of normal experience. In “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” Browning uses the technique of soliloquy taken from the stage. Whereas the speaker actually voices his thoughts, unlike in dramatic monologues, nobody in the poem hears him. As a result of this technique, the poem achieves immediacy—everything happens within the timeframe of the actual reading of the poem just as it would if this soliloquy were spoken on stage.

Furthermore, the dramatic nature of the form allows Browning to avoid stilted poetic diction and instead to demonstrate the quite forceful language of the speaker in a variety of forms:

If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,

God’s blood, would not mine kill you!

It allows Browning to show us a speaker who sometimes voices his own opinions, sometimes quotes from the Bible, mocks, or parodies Brother Lawrence’s hated affectations. At times we may even sympathize with the speaker in his disdain for the boring Brother Lawrence In short, the dramatic nature of this poem allows the full display of the speaker’s ambiguous personality.

Remarkably, while the poem sounds so dramatically real, Browning reveals his true virtuosity through the poetic forms he uses. Each stanza consists of 8 variously trochaic and iambic tetrameter lines. Tetrameter often is used for fast movement in a poem, as in stanzas 7 and 8, but speed and natural speech cadences also are achieved by the use of irregular rhymes and frequent double rhymes, for example in the last lines of the poem in which every line ends with a double rhyme:

Blasted lay that rose-acacia

We’re so proud of! Hy, Zy,Hine.

‘St, there’s Vespers! Plena gratia

Ave, Virgo! Gr-r-r—you swine!

The phrase “Hy, Zy,Hine” represents the ringing of the vesper bells but also are the beginning of the final curse on Brother Lawrence.

 

Themes and Meanings

“Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister” ostensibly deals with the lives of only two monks, but Browning intends to give us a glimpse into the whole monastic system while unintentionally revealing his own protestant prejudices against asceticism. No historic basis serves as a source for the poem; instead, Browning treats the cloister as a breeding ground for extremely narrow-minded thinking and gross jealousy of all that does not satisfy powerful egos. Here we have a poem that gives the sour-natured attitude of mind of a monk jealous of a brother whom he hates merely because of his genial nature and goodness. Of course, Brother Lawrence does come off seeming like a terrible bore, and perhaps his dullness lends to the humorous counterpoint of the speaker’s lust for physical enjoyment in life. In Stanza 1 Brother Lawrence’s simple caring for his garden galls the speaker utterly:

What? Your myrtle-bush wants trimming?

Oh, that rose has prior claims—

Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?

Hell dry you up with its flames!

The speaker further despises Brother Lawrence for his simple interest in spiritual life, and his neglect of those petty superstitious forms the observance of which the ill-natured monk congratulates himself.

When he finishes refection,

Knife and fork he never lays

Cross-wise, to my recollection,

As I do, in Jesu’s praise.

I the Trinity illustrate,

Drinking watered orange pulp—

In three sips the Arian frustrate;

While he drains his at one gulp.

 

We delight in this at times humorous portrait of the monk, even though we disapprove of his attitude, but we enjoy his shocking exuberance, his demonic intensity, his zest for earthly pleasure. But, when everything is finally considered, “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister” is Browning’s brilliant analysis of emotional hatred such as too close and too long association might develop in an uncharitable person.

 

I have taken my material for today’s post from notes to an essay I published many years ago for Salem Press.

 

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Paul Varner

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Southey and the Literary Life

May 3, 2017

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Robert Southey and the Literary Life

“No one of his generation lived so completely in and for literature as did Southey. ‘He is,’ said Byron, ‘the only existing entire man of letters.’ With him literature served the needs both of the material life and of the life of the intellect and imagination; it was his means of earning daily bread, and also the means of satisfying his highest ambitions and desires.

“This, which was true of Southey at five-and-twenty years of age, was equally true at forty, fifty, sixty. During all that time he was actively at work accumulating, arranging, and distributing knowledge; no one among his contemporaries gathered so large a store from the records of the past; no one toiled with such steadfast devotion to enrich his age; no one occupied so honorable a place in so many provinces of literature.

“There is not, perhaps, any single work of Southey’s the loss of which would be felt by us as a capital misfortune. But the more we consider his total work, its mass, its variety, its high excellence, the more we come to regard it as a memorable, an extraordinary achievement.”

Southeyrs1804

Robert Southey (1774-1843)

From Southey, by Edward Dowden. English Men of Letters Series, 1880.

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Walt Whitman’s “A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim”

April 15, 2017

Walt Whitman’s “A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim”

This date in history President Abraham Lincoln died after being shot the night before while he and Mary were watching the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. The Civil War over which he had overseen a bloody victory had essentially ended just four days earlier.

Earlier still in the War of Rebellion as the Union forces called the Civil War, or the War of Secession as the Confederate forces called it, the good grey poet Walt Whitman had written Drum-Taps, a collection of war poems, Here is “A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim”:

A SIGHT in camp in the day-break grey and dim,
As from my tent I emerge so early, sleepless,
As slow I walk in the cool fresh air, the path near by
the hospital-tent,
Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out there,
untended lying,
Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woolen
blanket,
Grey and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.

 
Curious, I halt, and silent stand;
Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest,
the first, just lift the blanket:
Who are you, elderly man so gaunt and grim, with
well-grey’d hair, and flesh all sunken about the
eyes?
Who are you, my dear comrade?
Then to the second I step—And who are you, my
child and darling?
Who are you, sweet boy, with cheeks yet blooming?

 
Then to the third—a face nor child, nor old, very
calm, as of beautiful yellow-white ivory:
Young man, I think I know you—I think this face of
yours is the face of the Christ himself;
Dead and divine, and brother of all, and here again he
lies.

 

In this elegy, written well before the death of Lincoln, Whitman mourns three soldiers who died just hours before. He states rather clearly that their martyrdom is comparable to that of Christ. Obviously the words were to take on even more meaning after the events that night at Ford’s Theatre.

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lovely,outside,bicycle,bookstore,fotografia,photo-3381a75ca8c28b10e1cae60bc21c626b_h

On This Date in History: Lee Surrendered to Grant

April 9, 2017

North South flags

Walt Whitman’s Drum-Taps

On this date in 1865 General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States of America surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant of the United States of America.

For those of us for whom literature matters greatly, probably no literature of the American Civil War matters as much as Walt Whitman’s collection of poetry, Drum Taps. Here are two poems “Beat! Beat! Drums” and “Cavalry Crossing a Ford.”

 

Walt Whitman

BEAT! BEAT! DRUMS!

1

BEAT! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a
force of ruthless men,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation;
Into the school where the scholar is studying:
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must
he have now with his bride;
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, plowing his field or
gathering his grain;
So fierce you whirr and pound, you drums—so shrill
you bugles blow.

2

Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in
the streets:
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses?
No sleepers must sleep in those beds;
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or specu-
lators —Would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt
to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case
before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder
blow.

3

Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation;
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer;
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man;
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s en-
treaties;
Make even the trestles to shake the dead, where they lie
awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump, O terrible drums—so loud
you bugles blow.

CAVALRY CROSSING A FORD.

vaWhitesFord
A LINE in long array, where they wind betwixt green
islands;
They take a serpentine course—their arms flash in the
sun—Hark to the musical clank;
Behold the silvery river—in it the splashing horses,
loitering, stop to drink;
Behold the brown-faced men—each group, each person,
a picture—the negligent rest on the saddles;
Some emerge on the opposite bank—others are just
entering the ford;
The guidon flags flutter gaily in the wind.

Many of Walt Whitman’s war poems embody the very spirit of civil conflict, picturing war with a poignant realism and a terrible, tender beauty. Unlike poems from other wars, such as those from World War I or those from Vietnam, these and other poems in Drum Taps make no attempt to resolve the tension between a romantic glorification of the Civil War and a rigorous anti-war stance.

Illuminating the Beats From Their Shadow: Re-Blog from NY Times

NYTimes-banner

Illuminating the Beats From Their Shadow

Books | American Beauties

MINOR CHARACTERS
By Joyce Johnson
265 pages, Penguin Books, $16.

Joyce Johnson was 21 and not long out of Barnard College when, in the winter of 1957, Allen Ginsberg set her up on a blind date with Jack Kerouac.

She took the subway downtown to meet him at a Howard Johnson’s on Eighth Street in Manhattan. “I push open the heavy glass door, and there is, sure enough, a black-haired man at the counter in a flannel lumberjack shirt slightly the worse for wear,” she writes.

“He looks up and stares at me hard with blue eyes, amazingly blue. And the skin on his face is so brown. He’s the only person in Howard Johnson’s in color. I feel a little scared as I walk up to him. ‘Jack?’ I say.”

Kerouac was older than Johnson, 34, and still largely unknown. The book that would make his reputation and upend American literature, “On the Road,” had yet to be published.

He was broke, hungry, distraught. She bought him a plate of frankfurters. He followed her back to her small apartment. A door had swung open in her life.

Thus began an off-and-on relationship that lasted nearly two years, years that witnessed the publication of “On the Road” and life-altering fame — not only Kerouac’s but also that of many of his closest friends, other Beat Generation writers.

Johnson captures this period with deep clarity and moving insight in her memoir “Minor Characters” (1983). It’s hardly an unknown book. It won a National Book Critics Circle Award, and it has remained in print since it was issued.

Joyce Johnson 07BOOKAMERICAN3-master180-v2

Joyce Johnson in 2009. More than a memoir of her time with the Beats, “Minor Characters” is a riveting portrait of an era. Credit Schiffer-Fuchs/ullstein bild, via Getty Images

I’m including it in this series of columns about neglected American books because I so rarely hear it mentioned, and because I continue to think it is hideously undervalued and under-read. “Minor Characters” is, in its quiet but deliberate way, among the great American literary memoirs of the past century.

Johnson’s book takes its title from her realization that — as was so common in every sphere of cultural life in the 1950s and beyond — the Beats were a boy gang. She would always be, at best, on its periphery. Her memoir braids and unbraids, at length, the meanings of this fact.

She recalls how the women at the San Remo and other bars, hangouts for writers and artists, “are all beautiful and have such remarkable cool that they never, never say a word; they are presences merely.” Johnson and her friends wanted to be among the yakkers, the all-night arguers.

“Minor Characters” is not just about the Beats. It’s about many different subjects that bleed together. In part it’s a portrait of Johnson’s cloistered middle-class childhood on the Upper West Side. Her parents wanted her to be a composer.

She longed for escape and began sneaking down to Washington Square Park to be among the musicians and poets. She was round-faced, well-dressed, virginal. She’d never tasted coffee. It was “my curse,” she writes, that “my outside doesn’t reflect my inside, so no one knows who I really am.”

Her book is a riveting portrait of an era. It contains a description of a back-room abortion that’s as harrowing and strange as any I’ve read. Johnson had the abortion because she didn’t love the boy and wasn’t ready for a child.

“Sometimes you went to bed with people almost by mistake, at the end of late, shapeless nights when you’d stayed up so long it almost didn’t matter,” she writes. “The thing was, not to go home.”

Minor Characters 81NqlK8Z-RL

Alessandra Montalto gets credit for the image
actually published with this article./The New York Times

“Minor Characters” is a glowing introduction to the Beats. There are shrewd portraits of not just Kerouac and Ginsberg but people like Robert Frank and Hettie Jones.

Johnson has a knack for summing up a character in a blazing line or two. Here’s how she describes the Beat-era figure Lucien Carr, for example, at the moment he first met Kerouac: “This rich, dangerous St. Louis boy with the wicked mouth who’s already been kicked out of Bowdoin and the University of Chicago, who’s amassed a whole dissipated history by the age of 19.”

Best of all, perhaps, this book charts Johnson’s own career as a budding writer. She worked in publishing when she was young; she was secretary to John Farrar of Farrar, Straus and Cudahy (later Farrar, Straus & Giroux). He wanted to promote her; she left instead to visit Kerouac in Mexico and write. She published her first novel, “Come and Join the Dance,” when she was 26.

By then, she and Kerouac had separated for good. There was a final scene on a sidewalk. “You’re nothing but a big bag of wind!” she shouted at him. Kerouac, constitutionally unable to remain with one woman, shouted back, “Unrequited love’s a bore!”

Johnson looks back on the young woman she was, while with Kerouac, and realizes she was “not in mourning for her life. How could she have been, with her seat at the table in the exact center of the universe, that midnight place where so much is converging, the only place in America that’s alive?”

I remember tracking down a first edition of “Minor Characters” — this was harder in the late 1980s than it is today — to give to my college girlfriend as a graduation present. She looked at its title, wrinkled her brow and asked, “Why this book?” Why a book, in other words, about women who are minor characters?

I fumbled my answer. I knew only that I loved the book and wanted to share it. What I wish I had said is this: “Minor Characters” is better than all but a handful of books the boy-Beats themselves wrote. It’s a book about a so-called minor character who, in the process of writing her life, became a major one.

Follow Dwight Garner on Twitter: @DwightGarner

American Beauties is a column by Dwight Garner, appearing every other week, about undersung American books of the past 75 years.

A version of this review appears in print on April 7, 2017, on Page C21 of the New York edition with the headline: Illuminating the Beats From Their Shadow. Today’s Paper|Subscribe

 

 

First Impressions: Dorothy Wordsworth Meets Her Brother

214EdKeatsWordsworth5Racedown
Racedown Cottage, the first residence of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, in the Lake District

April 7, 2017

On this date William Wordsworth was born in 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumberland, UK.

Few brother-sister relationships in literary history have affected the course of western literature like that of Dorothy and William Wordsworth. The story of that relationship is the story of natural and shared genius, yet the genius of one relegated, obscured, and subordinated in her lifetime to the genius celebrated in his lifetime. Yet, William’s genius was dependent greatly upon that of his sister’s. Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals were not published in her lifetime, but they reveal her genius and they reveal that she was for many of the early Wordsworth poems her brother’s collaborator. It’s not that William took advantage of his sister or that he would have denied her role as his partner if asked. Nineteenth-century English society took advantage of her.

Regardless, William Wordsworth received the acclaim of history and the western world as he dominated his age and mightily helped the worldwide paradigm change that was Romanticism.

Dorothy and William spent their childhoods apart with relatives after the deaths of their parents. So when they came together in early adulthood they really did not know each other well.

Here in a letter to her close friend Jane Pollard from February 1792, Dorothy offers her early impressions of her brother, at first comparing him to their brother Christopher:

Christopher is steady and sincere in his attachments. William has both these virtues in an eminent degree, and a sort of violence of affection, if I may so term it, which demonstrates itself every moment of the day, when the objects of his attentions to their wishes, in a sort of restless watchfulness which I may not know how to describe, a tenderness that never sleeps, and at the same time such a delicacy of manner as I have observed in few men.

In another letter to Pollard from June of that year, Dorothy writes an introduction to her brother whom she hopes Pollard will soon meet:

But it is enough to say that I am likely to have the happiness of introducing you to my beloved brother. You must forgive me for talking so much of him; my affection hurries me on, and makes me forget that you cannot be so much interested in the subject as I am. You do not know how amiable he is. Perhaps you reply, ‘But I know how blinded you are.’ Well, my dearest, I plead guilty at once; I must be blind; he cannot be so pleasing as my fondness makes him. I am willing to allow that half the virtues with which I fancy him endowed are the creation of my love; but surely I may be excused! He was never tired of comforting his sister; he never left her in anger; he always met her with joy; he preferred her society to every other pleasure—or rather, when we were so happy as to be within each other’s reach, he had no pleasure when we were compelled to be divided. Do not, then expect too much from this brother of whom I have delighted so to talk to you. In the first place, you must be with him more than once before he will be perfectly easy in conversation. In the second place, his person is not in his favour—at least I should think not; but I soon ceased to discover this—nay, I almost thought that the opinion which I had formed was erroneous. He is, however, certainly rather plain, though otherwise has an extremely thoughtful countenance; but when he speaks it is often lighted up by a smile which I think very pleasing. But enough, he is my brother; why should I describe him? I shall be launching again into panegyric.

 

Series: Jane Hirshfield’s Early Poetry: Given Sugar, Given Salt

April 5, 2017

given-sugargivensalt9780060959012

Hirshfield’s fifth volume of poetry, published in 2001, continues with the old themes but proves her most expansive volume to date: “As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,/we become our choices.” And thus Given Sugar, Given Salt explores our choices for meaningful living. In “Bone,” for example, the speaker’s dog unearths an old bone, the toy of her previous dog—for whose memory she still grieves. The new dog knows nothing of the old dog:

My memories,

my counting and expectations,

mean nothing to her;

my sadness, though,

does puzzle her a moment.

But the new dog does not remain puzzled for long. She just keeps on chewing and then readies herself for a game of catch.

Choices control all of our lives. In “Happiness is Harder” Hirshfield considers even happiness a choice. Sadness can be cured perhaps: “A person has only to choose./ What doesn’t matter; just that-.” However, “Happiness is harder.” Or, she says,

Consider the masters’ description

of awakened existence, how seemingly simple:

Hungry, I eat; sleepy, I sleep.

Is this choosing completely, or not at all?

 

In either case, everything seems to conspire against it.

Jane Hirshfield has, then, developed a unique voice among contemporary American poets. Her work has the quiet yet persistent vision characteristic of Zen. Life often is a question with no answer, but the question must be asked. Jane Hirshfield continues to ask.

Ok, folks, I think that’s all I’ve got for this series on the early poetry of Jane Hirshfield. If you would like to collect the entire series at once just click on Jane Hirshfield under Categories to read everything.

jane-hirshfield

Since 2001 Jane Hirshfield has published the following volumes of poetry:

Pebbles & Assays (2004)

Each Happiness Ringed by Lions (2005)

After (2006)

Come, Thief (2013)

The Beauty (2015)

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cancer killing recipe

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MUDD iN YOUR FACE

from boredom to creativity

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deconstructingdoctor.com

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The literary world of the Long Nineteenth Century, c.1789 - 1914

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The Literary Life

A Site for Those for whom Serious Literature Matters

The Literary Counsellor

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For poets working outside the literary world.

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Lizzy's Literary Life

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Let's Talk about Lit

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Witty N Pretty

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G. E. Gallas

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